‘Vegan’ Food Labels Fail to Entice US Consumers

Plant-based foods are taking off like never before. That’s why it’s so surprising to learn that many U.S. consumers don’t like the term “vegan” on a product’s label.

A survey by Morning Consult took the marketing pulse of 2,201 U.S. adults in May 2018. The survey asked about three topics — online versus in-store shopping, purchasing considerations, and product labeling preferences.

The survey discovered that:

  1. Most Americans who aren’t already shopping online don’t plan to do so in the future
  2. Brand name is the most important purchasing consideration
  3. “Fresh” is the most appealing term on a product label, while “vegan” is the least

Really? What’s wrong with the word “vegan”?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Well, let’s look more closely at those results. Morning Consult says it asked this question: “Do each of the following words or phrases, commonly found on food or beverage products, make you more or less likely to buy the product?”

These words, in order of preference from most liked to least, were the final results:

  • Fresh
  • Farm-fresh
  • Sourced from American farmers
  • Nutritious
  • A high source of vitamins
  • Natural flavors
  • Naturally sweetened
  • High in fiber
  • Grass-fed
  • Free-range
  • Low Calorie
  • Organic
  • Non-GMO
  • Fat-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Sustainably sourced
  • Ethically sourced
  • Parent-approved
  • Gluten free
  • Diet
  • Vegan

See the word “vegan” in dead last place? Disheartening, to say the least. However, there are a couple of likely reasons why it ended up in that position.

In total, 35 percent of those surveyed said a label with the word “vegan” on it was less appealing than one without it. Interestingly, 17 percent found this word “more appealing” — these were probably the actual vegans or vegetarians in the study. Those who didn’t care one way or the other amounted to 35 percent, and 12 percent had no opinion.

Of those who didn’t like “vegan” on their labels, age played a big part. Of Generation Z respondents — those born between 1995 and 2005 — 29 percent said the word vegan on a label made the product more appealing to them. Compare that to only 14 percent of baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — who said the same thing.

Veganism is on the rise among the youngest generation of adults. Gen Z is showing much greater concern for animal welfare and the fate of the planet than the generations who preceded them.

Gen Z consumes 57 percent more tofu, 166 percent more quinoa, 266 percent more avocado, 667 percent for coconut oil and 550 percent more plant-based milk than millennials — born between 1981 and 1996 – according to research by Barclays.

Here’s another probably reason that the word “vegan” is not well liked. For those not already vegan or vegetarian, food that’s labeled vegan often translates as food tasting suspiciously of cardboard and sadness.

Those of us who eat vegan know that description is as far from the truth as you can get. Still, it’s notoriously difficult to get an omnivore of a certain age to just try a vegan meal for once. I’ve been in that situation — and you likely have too.

That’s one reason you might see the word “plant-based” on a food product instead of “vegan.” Something plant-based seems to sound more healthy and inviting to some people than a vegan product. It’s unfortunate that the survey didn’t include the term “plant-based” as a point of comparison. The results would have been interesting.

Even the terms “sustainably sourced” and “ethically sourced” performed poorly in this study, compared with descriptors like “fresh” and “farm-sourced.” Do people really not care how their food was sourced, so long as it’s cheap and convenient?

Another question in this survey asked under which circumstances the respondents would be willing to pay 50 cents more for a product. One choice was “Packaging makes note of animal welfare in sourcing of the product.”

Sadly, that made a difference for only 12 percent of those surveyed. I don’t know about you, but I’d pay 50 cents more — in a heartbeat — for something with a demonstrably better animal welfare footprint.

We still have a lot of work to do, if we’re going to make the idea of eating and living vegan the predominant way of life. Many people still equate “vegan” with goofy, cultish, angry, ill-informed wackos.

Most of us, of course, aren’t this way. Veganism is a strong, well-founded ethical position.

Now we need to make it more attractive to those who aren’t used to the idea of a plant-based diet and emphasize that compassion and kindness are at the root of our movement.

Photo Credit: Once upon a time/Flickr

81 comments

Danuta W
Danuta Wyesterday

Thanks for sharing.

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Amanda M
Amanda M2 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M2 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Danii P
Danii P7 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Danii P
Danii P7 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R9 days ago

Wesley Struebing sadly I agree...

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Leo Custer
Leo C10 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Amanda M
Amanda M10 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M10 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Angela J
Angela J11 days ago

Thanks

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